By Fred Watson, Astronomer-at-Large, The Australian Astronomical Observatory
In an international emergency like the present one, you might expect the science of the stars to be the last thing on peoples minds. The problems facing both individuals and governments are infinitely more pressing than events in the depths of space. People are suffering unprecedented hardships.
Yet throughout history, astronomy has shown extraordinary resilience in times of crisis and has kept public support. That resilience will be needed as a major international project, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), is on the brink of construction.
The SKA will be the worlds largest radio telescope, and Australia will play a leading role in building and operating it. How can this benefit a nation focused on containing a global pandemic?
History shows the science of the stars is no stranger to crisis. Indeed, modern astronomy was born in a time of deep conflict, when the northern provinces of the Netherlands were engaged in difficult negotiations with Spain after 40 years of war.
In 1608, the fledgling telescope came out of obscurity in the hands of Dutch spectacle-makers, and its possibilities for astronomy were recognised. When news of this optical novelty reached Galileo Galilei in Padua the following May, he set about improving it and the rest is history.
By the turn of the twentieth century, astronomical infrastructure had become big business, but two World Wars caused major disruptions. New telescope proposals were put on hold as manufacturers turned their hands to gunsights, rangefinders, binoculars and other optical munitions.
During the Second World War, one British company actually buried the 1.5-tonne mirror for a new South African telescope in a field to avoid possible bomb damage. While delivery of the mirror was delayed until 1948, the telescope was a success, and is still at work today.
Similarly, in the United States, the 200-inch (5.1-metre) mirror for what was to be the worlds largest telescope at the time, at Mount Palomar, California, was cast in December 1934, but the instruments completion was delayed until 1949. Although it is no longer the largest in the world, the Palomar telescope remains among the most effective.
While hardly comparable to a world war, the present crisis constitutes an emergency of grave proportions, and it is important to put a project like the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) into perspective.
When completed, the telescope will provide radio astronomers with the largest and most advanced facility available to them. With an expected working lifetime of more than 50 years, it will explore the whole 13.8-billion year history of the Universe, yielding many exciting discoveries.
And spin-offs from the technologies under development have huge commercial potential, with tangible benefits for economic recovery.
One of the reasons governments fund research into the study of the Universe is that astronomy pushes technology to its limits whether it be low-noise radio receivers, complex data management systems or sophisticated computer algorithms. Wifi, for example, had its origins in Australian radio astronomy a quarter of a century ago.
More immediately, the construction of the SKA offers significant opportunities for local companies. The low-frequency component of the telescope will be built at the Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory in Western Australias remote Wajarri Yamatji country, one of the most radio-quiet places on Earth.
The project has so far spent $330 million in funding from the Australian and WA governments establishing the observatory and building pathfinder instruments.
And on the wider horizon, big science facilities like the SKA require strong international partnerships, with collaboration among the projects 14 member states representing a further positive outcome. Along with South Africa, where the mid-frequency component of the telescope will be located, Australia can expect its scientific standing to be further enhanced as one of the SKA host nations.
Although technological spin-offs are an important outcome of astronomical research, it is pure curiosity that is the ultimate driver. We are an inquisitive species, and the quest to know is what motivates researchers.
But it also inspires the rest of us with the staggering beauty of the universe and the appeal of scientific understanding. For youngsters in particular, that can prepare them for the jobs of the future, shaping an agile knowledge economy for our nation.
If the lessons of history are anything to go by, the SKA will be unlocking the secrets of the universe long after COVID-19 has subsided into memory. And that will be something of which we can all be proud.
Fred Watson, Astronomer-at-Large, Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, Australian Astronomical Observatory
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
The Royal Institution of Australia has an education resource based on this article. You can access it here.
See the original post here:
- The Sky This Week from May 29 to June 5 - Astronomy Magazine - June 1st, 2020
- New SpaceX satellites launched, all part of this week's astronomy highlights - WDBJ7 - June 1st, 2020
- Discovery of Massive Galaxy Just 1.5 Billion Years After the Big Bang Has Astronomers Questioning Formation Models - SciTechDaily - June 1st, 2020
- Space out: Learn about rockets, astronomy, cosmic events and astronauts with this guide to the galaxy - Seattle Times - June 1st, 2020
- View On Astronomy: A quiet month astronomically means it's time to get creative - The Independent - June 1st, 2020
- Bombardment by Asteroids and Comets in Another Planetary System Predicted by Astronomers - SciTechDaily - June 1st, 2020
- Astronomers spot blue 'beast' of an explosion in the universe - CNN - June 1st, 2020
- Space Out and Explore the Universe Without Leaving Home - The New York Times - June 1st, 2020
- Why these astronomers now doubt theres a Planet Nine - EarthSky - June 1st, 2020
- Assistant Teaching Professor of Physics and Astronomy in Munce, IN for Ball State University - Physics - June 1st, 2020
- Starlink seeks to deliver global high-speed internet; astronomers say it's interfering with their work - WKOW - June 1st, 2020
- What to know about the historic launch on Wednesday - Astronomy Magazine - June 1st, 2020
- Universe's 'missing matter' finally found in the space between galaxies - UC Santa Cruz - June 1st, 2020
- Ask An Astronomer: Space Debris and Threat They Pose to Satellites, Space Missions - The Weather Channel - June 1st, 2020
- The Sky This Week from May 22 to 29 - Astronomy Magazine - May 24th, 2020
- What's happening to Pluto's atmosphere - Astronomy Magazine - May 24th, 2020
- Astronomers find the Wolfe Disk, an unlikely galaxy, in the distant universe - CNN - May 24th, 2020
- In an orange swirl, astronomers say humanity has its first look at the birth of a planet - NBCNews.com - May 24th, 2020
- Astronomers May Have Spotted a Tiny Moon in The Outer Solar System - ScienceAlert - May 24th, 2020
- Here's your chance to spot Mercury, as it cosies up to Venus this weekend - Astronomy Now Online - May 24th, 2020
- WFIRST Will be Named After Nancy Grace Roman, NASA's First Chief Astronomer - Universe Today - May 24th, 2020
- Columbia Astronomer Estimates the Odds of Extraterrestrial Life and Intelligence Emerging in Alien Worlds - SciTechDaily - May 24th, 2020
- How Many Galaxies Are There? Astronomers Are Revealing the Enormity of the Universe - Discover Magazine - May 24th, 2020
- Hot Super-Earth Discovered Orbiting Ancient Star | Astronomy - Sci-News.com - May 19th, 2020
- The Sky This Week from May 15 to 22 - Astronomy Magazine - May 19th, 2020
- Observe edge-on and face-on galaxies | Astronomy.com - Astronomy Magazine - May 19th, 2020
- Hunting The Secrets Of The Universe In Pajamas, Astronomers Go Back To Work - Hawaiipublicradio - May 19th, 2020
- Technology, international bonds, and inspiration: why astronomy matters in times of crisis - The Conversation AU - May 15th, 2020
- Is the Big Bang in crisis? | Astronomy.com - Astronomy Magazine - May 15th, 2020
- How a long-gone Apollo rocket returned to Earth - Astronomy Magazine - May 15th, 2020
- UK Physics and Astronomy Receives Prestigious REU From NSF - UKNow - May 15th, 2020
- Jupiter, Moon, and Saturn to align together for a rare astronomical occurrence on May 12 - Republic World - Republic World - May 15th, 2020
- What is Astronomy? Definition & History | Space - May 4th, 2020
- The Sky This Week from May 1 to 8 - Astronomy Magazine - May 4th, 2020
- Scientists keep debunking 'monster black hole' discovery. So, what's the deal with binary system LB1? - Space.com - May 4th, 2020
- A hundred thousand supernovae - Astronomy Now Online - May 4th, 2020
- 9 out of This World Astronomy Projects You Can Do While at Home - Smash Newz - May 4th, 2020
- How Hubble opened our eyes to the universe's first galaxies - Astronomy Magazine - May 4th, 2020
- Celebrate National Astronomy Day with The Bishop Museum - Sarasota - May 4th, 2020
- The secrets to stargazing from your backyard - The Guardian - May 4th, 2020
- Astronomers have spotted the most powerful supernova ever - New Scientist News - May 4th, 2020
- International Astronomy Day 2020: All You Need to Know - News18 - May 4th, 2020
- Our Sun is magnetically quiet compared to other stars. But why? - SYFY WIRE - May 4th, 2020
- The Night Sky This May: Here are the Top Astronomy Events You Can See This Month - Tech Times - May 4th, 2020
- The Sky This Week from April 24 to May 1 - Astronomy Magazine - April 26th, 2020
- Astronomers Find a Six-Planet System Which Orbit in Lockstep With Each Other - Universe Today - April 26th, 2020
- Astronomers Have Watched a Nova Go From Start to Finish For The First Time - ScienceAlert - April 26th, 2020
- Hubble watches a suspected exoplanet disappear before its very eyes - Astronomy Magazine - April 24th, 2020
- Astronomers Watch a Nova Go From Start to Finish for the First Time - Universe Today - April 24th, 2020
- Astronomers May Have Captured the First Ever Image of Nearby Exoplanet Proxima C - Scientific American - April 24th, 2020
- Astronomy tips: How to photograph the moon, stars, and sky - Los Angeles Times - April 24th, 2020
- Astronomers Detected a Black Hole Merger With Very Different Mass Objects - Universe Today - April 24th, 2020
- Everything You Need to Know to Take up Stargazing - Thrillist - April 24th, 2020
- This Free Virtual Astronomy Livestream from the Intrepid Is Out of This World! - Time Out New York Kids - April 24th, 2020
- Beginners' astronomy: That bright light you can see in the western sky? That's Venus - Astronomy Now Online - April 24th, 2020
- Astronomers Might Have Imaged a Second Planet Around Nearby Proxima Centauri - and it Might Have a Huge Set of Rings - Universe Today - April 24th, 2020
- SpaceX to send astronauts to the International Space Station May 27 - Astronomy Magazine - April 24th, 2020
- The Sky This Week from April 10 to 17 - Astronomy Magazine - April 11th, 2020
- Earth's best telescopes have closed, but the hunt for dangerous aster - Astronomy Magazine - April 11th, 2020
- Interview: Jim Lovell relives the successful failure of Apollo 13 - Astronomy Magazine - April 11th, 2020
- astronomy | Definition & Facts | Britannica - March 31st, 2020
- Astronomy for Beginners | Night Sky Facts, FAQs ... - March 31st, 2020
- Unlike Earth, Mars may have never had a global magma ocean - Astronomy Magazine - March 31st, 2020
- Necroplanetology: The Strangest Field of Astronomy You've Never Heard Of - ScienceAlert - March 31st, 2020
- How to explore the universe while you're stuck at home - Astronomy Magazine - March 31st, 2020
- Discover the secrets of the Northern Pinwheel Galaxy - Astronomy Magazine - March 31st, 2020
- The Sun: Extremely loud and incredibly hot - Astronomy Magazine - March 31st, 2020
- Hubble anniversary events impacted by COVID-19 pandemic - Astronomy Now Online - March 31st, 2020
- Mobile astronomy: Put the Milky Way in your pocket with 'Our Galaxy' smartphone app - Space.com - March 26th, 2020
- The true impact of SpaceXs Starlink constellation on astronomy is coming into focus - The Verge - March 26th, 2020
- The Thirty Meter Telescope: How a volcano in Hawaii became a battleground for astronomy - Space.com - March 26th, 2020
- The Sky This Week from March 20 to 27 - Astronomy Magazine - March 26th, 2020
- Slooh will livestream astronomy lesson for K-12 students during coronavirus outbreak - Space.com - March 26th, 2020
- We All Live In A Croissant-Shaped Giant Bubble, Say Astronomers - Forbes - March 26th, 2020
- How Astronomers Could Sharpen The Image Of A Black Hole - Forbes - March 26th, 2020
- Astrophysicists Perform Test of String Theory | Astronomy - Sci-News.com - March 26th, 2020
- Astronomers find an exoplanet where iron rains from the sky - Astronomy Magazine - March 11th, 2020
- The fifth force: Is there another fundamental force of nature? - Astronomy Magazine - March 11th, 2020
- The Sky This Week from March 6 to 13 - Astronomy Magazine - March 11th, 2020
- Get ready to explore the "Cosmos" with Neil deGrasse Tyson - Astronomy Magazine - March 11th, 2020